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The Problem with Embodied Research


By Jennifer Frank Tantia, PhD

Back in 2011 when I began to recruit participants for my doctoral dissertation on therapists’ experience of intuition in the clinical setting, I found myself up against some difficulty. Being an East Coast dweller, I was hard pressed to find somatic psychotherapists and had to resort to calling some of my favorite therapists back on the West Coast to interview them. One interviewee said she could fit me into her schedule between therapy appointments and her jazz class and took the phone call from her car. When I asked her how she felt intuition in her body, I heard her say between the beeps and swishes of passing cars, “I don’t feel intuition in my body at all”. I was dismayed . . . but determined. I called my second participant and asked her my question, to which she said, “It’s . . . energy! You know . . .  energy!”

I hung up the phone and stared at the wall, as was my customary posture for “writing” my dissertation. After a while I began to imagine what my participants must have looked like while they were talking . . . how did they describe what they were saying? Realizing that I needed to know more, I decided that interviews would be in-person only and, just to make sure that I captured all data available (and not even sure what that meant yet), I video recorded them. Thinking further, I realized that using a traditional method of data collection and analysis was not enough, so I devised an original method for collecting and analyzing embodied data (Tantia, 2014). In order to stay as true to embodied data as possible, I found myself translating parts of somatic psychotherapy interventions into a method for collecting data.

Check with your breathing right now. Did you notice that when you did, your breathing changed? According to one definition of embodiment, you just experienced the process of becoming further embodied. “Mindfulness is attention to the body, whereas embodiment is the body’s enlivened response to that attention” (Tantia, 2012). Embodiment, despite its elusive definitions, is actually capable of being studied. In my newly devised method, I observed that when a topic is difficult to describe, gestures facilitate thinking.

Today, I have been humbled and elated to be editing a two-volume textbook via Routledge publishers, currently titled, “Embodied Research Methods.” Volume 1 discusses important considerations for conducting embodied research, such as the foundations of embodied awareness, ethical research practices and an in-depth discussion on what exactly are embodied data. Volume 2 is a collection of step-by-step instructions for ten methods cases (think of a case study of a methodology!) that students can browse for structure, support or even inspiration (if they need to adapt one to fit their own study). The second volume in particular includes studies from many different countries as well as several disciplines, all based in the  collection and analysis of embodied data. My hope is that these books will be a useful reference for all students who wish to study embodiment. It is expected to be in print and online in 2019.

Tantia, J. F. (2013). Body-focused interviewing: Corporeal experience in phenomenological inquiry. In SAGE Research Methods Cases. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. http://srmo.sagepub.com/view/methods-case-studies-2013/n228.xml

Tantia, J. F. (2012). Mindfulness and Dance/movement Therapy for Treating Trauma, in L. Rappaport, (Ed.), Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies, London: Jessica Kingsley Publications.      


*You can read the full dissertation at: http://search.proquest.com/docview/1430510485